Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 8, 2019

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 8 September 2019

Four finalists in order of favouritism

Ball One – Trouble at t’Mill (Mill temporarily closed)

In the 140 days between their first match of the season at Old Trafford and the Blast quarter-final last Wednesday, Lancashire have played (or been scheduled to play) at the home ground on 23 days across the three domestic competitions. But they could not play their home tie against Essex on their home ground (otherwise engaged, as you may have noticed), so went to The Riverside, Durham a round trip of 291 miles. For Essex fans (and for a midweek match with a late finish and dodgy weather forecast, perhaps fanatic rather than fan fits the bill) the journey was 594 miles. The “crowd” was as sparse as you would expect, giving the match the atmosphere of an Eastern European football fixture played behind closed doors after a UEFA sanction. Why choose that venue rather than one a little more convenient for supporters? (Apologies – I should have referred to the grounds above by their correct titles: Emirates Old Trafford and Emirates Riverside).

Ball Two – Bop, Bop, Bop. Bop Bopara

On a pudding of a pitch in very cold conditions – as the Sky commentary team reminded us every other ball – Alex Davies played a gem of an innings, finding boundaries and twos with quick hands and rubbery wrists. His 80* took the er… home side up to what looked like a winning total of 159, captain Dane Vilas the only other contributor of note. After a few jogs on and off for rain, the 160 target looked too distant right up until the last ball of the 18th over, by which time 29 runs were needed off 13 balls and just one six had been hit by either side. Cue Ravi Bopara to smash the next three balls he faced over the sponge, Ryan ten Doeschate to slam one too, before Ravi hit the walk-off home run (okay, his fourth six) to send the Essex supporters (Essex supporter?) home happy yet again. Lanky captain, Vilas, took plenty of stick online for using Liam Livingstone for the crucial penultimate over, but I prefer to give credit to Ravi and Ryan, whose 673 T20 matches of experience showed at the death.

Ball Three – Hales storm sinks Middlesex

In some ways, a similar story unfolded in the second Blast quarter-final at Trent Bridge, where Eoin Morgan’s 53 off 31 balls, after the likes of AB de Villiers, Paul Stirling and Dawid Malan had failed to hit a six in the first half of the Middlesex innings, set Nottinghamshire 161 to win. The experienced pair marshalling the chase this time were openers, Chris Nash (incredibly playing his first T20 match of the season) and Alex Hales, who teed off with seven sixes. They only let their run rate drop into single figures as they cantered to the winning post with 22 balls to spare. It’s a topsy-turvy season for Notts, but you’d be brave to bet against them on Finals Day.

Ball Four – Ali’s knockout blows

Moeen, Moeen, Moeen… What to make of England’s exiled (one hopes temporarily) second spinner / all-rounder / icon? In the Test side not much more than a month ago, after his dropping reported to be taking a break from cricket, sighted bowling medium pace and… well. He had bowled handily, 1-22 off his full allocation in Sussex’s 184-6, and that can often be a precursor of a decent knock – and, to be fair, he has been in decent nick since escaping the bouncers at one end and Nathan Lyon at the other. That said, even the most fervent of this mercurial cricketer’s legion of fans could not have expected a career-best 121*, the captain’s 11 sixes making the Player of the Match adjudicator’s job a formality. Worcestershire will go to Finals Day confident of defending their trophy.

Ball Five – Derbyshire’s journeymen book a trip to Finals Day

Not by much, but Derbyshire will go into the big showpiece occasion as the outsiders of the four after a comfortable seven wickets win over Gloucestershire, 17 balls in hand. I guess that’s what happens when the biggest name in the XI is Ravi Rampaul, whose fielding is more 20th century than Twenty20. But it’s not reputations that win trophies, it’s the hard yards of runs and wickets and few bowlers are squeezing batsmen like wrist spinning all-rounder, Matt Critchley. There were no boundaries in his four overs, which went for just 21, bagging the dangerous Ryan Higgins and Jack Taylor en route. In his last five T20 matches, Critchley has delivered his full allocation conceding 25 runs or fewer, which is the kind of bowling that takes wickets at the other end. If he can defrost his fingers at Edgbaston, look out for for his freezing the scoreboard.

Ball Six – Finals Day’s fantastic finale

Three non-Test ground counties will contest Finals Day, the kind of poke in the eye to the ECB that the Three Stooges would be proud of. As ever (unlike, say, May’s FA Cup Final) a winner is hard to call with all four sides able to make a case. I’d go with Essex, who have plenty of the nuts and bolts required – explosive batting, balanced attack, good fielding – but their experience is what gives them an edge in the nous stakes when it comes making the quickfire decisions under pressure that turn tight matches. The bookies go with Nottinghamshire, but there’s only one and a half points between the four. T20 doesn’t always please the purists, but the ECB have a fine competition on their hands which is always competitive and reaches a wonderful crescendo every season. They wouldn’t want to tamper with that now would they?

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Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 1, 2019

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 1 September 2019

Kent describe a parabola

Ball One – Kent crash at Canterbury

When Kent bear Essex at Canterbury at the beginning of the month, it was the third of consecutive five wins that launched their Blast campaign into the stratosphere. But Chelmsford’s return match saw Sam Billings’ men burn up on re-entry, their seemingly nailed on place in the quarter-finals pilfered by… who else, Essex. Set 190 to win, Kent had things under control at the end of the 11th over, with Zak Crawley and Faf du Plessis going well, up with the rate, wickets in hand, like the textbook says. But the home side have such a varied attack that once Adam Zampa shot out the South African, a calamitous succession of swings and misses saw Kent fall 11 runs short. Essex still needed rock bottom Glamorgan to beat Hampshire – which, of course, they did. Because Essex always Find A Way.

Ball Two – Somerset dream of the pennant as sun sets on season

With Sussex, Gloucestershire and Middlesex also progressing, no “Test Match ground” county made it out of the South Group. Middlesex, though merely the MCC’s tenants at Lord’s, certainly pack their upper order with internationals and they needed them to come good if they were to chase down Somerset’s 226-5 at Taunton. They did. Dawid Malan, Paul Stirling, AB de Villiers and Eoin Morgan scored 181 runs between them off 69 balls faced en route to a world record. Somerset begin a very big September because, after their lightning start to the Champo season and with the Royal London One Day Cup in the cabinet, a campaign that promised so much may turn a little flat. And it might be the greatest season in their history.

Ball Three – Grizzly end for Bears and Tykes

No such last round nail-biting in the North Group, where Yorkshire won and Worcestershire lost their final fixtures, but the Pears still advanced, points in the bank. At least the White Rose went out with a bang, racking up 200 against the Birmingham Bears, who had wickets in hand but faced an asking rate in double figures from the end of the fifth over, scoreboard pressure doing its job. With the resources at their disposal, one feels that at least one of these counties should have progressed to the knockout stage.

Ball Four – Carter has them over a barrel

Lancashire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire join Worcestershire in the quarter-finals, Nottinghamshire seeking some redemption after a semi-final defeat in the RLODC and a disastrous campaign in the Championship. Their win earlier in the week against Yorkshire provided some nostalgia for for the non-millennials, as off-spinner, Matt Carter, secured the Player of the Match award with the very Sunday-afternoon-with-Peter-Westish figures of 4-0-12-0, comprising half an allocation of dot balls and half an allocation of singles. Flat Jack Simmons would be proud.

Ball Five – Batsman of the Blast (Group Stage)

In all sports, nobody is quite sure what turns the prodigy into the fulfilled mature player – for every Sachin Tendulkar there’s a Billy Godleman. Okay, the ex-Middlesex man wasn’t quite in SRT’s class as a teenager, but he had everything going for him but never came through to international class, finding his place as a solid county pro. He’s still only 30, captain at Derbyshire with 15 seasons of hard earned nous to call upon. That’s the kind of experience that produces innings of 57, 52* and 28*, steering his unfashionable county to three consecutive wins and third place in the North Group, earning his team a winnable trip to Bristol. Godleman’s strike rate of 114 is the lowest in the Blast’s top 30 runscorers, but, just sometimes, it’s not how many, it’s how useful.

Ball Six – Bowler of the Blast (Group Stage)

Steven Finn came through at Middlesex at the same time as Godleman and fulfilled far more of his promise, as 250+ wickets for England can attest. But his career has been blighted by injury (got to expect that as a pacer) and running into the stumps (Hmmm…) contributing to an incipient consensus that his action was too unreliable to be trusted, something that surely filtered into his own head. It’s two years since he played for England and he looks a long way off a recall, so he’s likely to see his career out on the domestic stage, not a career trajectory conducive to dealing with the aches and pains that come with his trade. His captain, Dawid Malan (who may empathise with Finn’s fate) asked him to run in hard and take wickets – which is what he did, going for a few sure, but knocking 19 of ’em over. It worked. He’ll be looking forward to a quarter-final at Trent Bridge where, seven long years ago, he took 2-22 for England in his four overs against West Indies.

Vitality Blast quarter-finals:

Wednesday Lancashire vs Essex;

Thursday Nottinghamshire vs Middlesex;

Friday Sussex vs Worcestershire;

Saturday Gloucestershire vs Derbyshire.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 23, 2019

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 23 August 2019

Ball One – Just not cricket?

Did you like that week of first class wicket, slyly interpolated into the T20 biffathon? Sam Billings called it “brainless” – a word that might be better employed in describing Kent’s batting, as they were swept aside by Essex for 40 in 18 overs at Canterbury. Elsewhere, the cricket was less frenetic, if no less compelling, brains evidently engaged. The heretical question to ask is – “Why can’t a professional cricketer adjust from one format to the other?” The fielding is pretty much the same, a few more minutes spent on slip catching practice notwithstanding. The ball is still delivered from about 20 years away, still seams. swings or spins at 50mph to 90mph and the bat is still the same piece of wood. The mental adjustment may be the most tricky to effect, but all these guys do is play cricket (12 months contracts these days). It’s not too much to ask is it? And plenty manage okay too.

Ball Two – Wheater earns his corn

That said, what a match it was at Canterbury (even if Billings did call for an harumph). Kent, on Essex’s insistence, batted first and were soon 138-8, only Daniel Bell-Drummond able to deal with Sam Cook and Mohammad Amir. Harry Podmore and Matt Milnes deployed the long handle and the ninth and tenth wicket contribution of 82 looked crucial when Essex were shot out for 114. But Cook and Amir were only warming up first time round and they shared nine of the ten Kent wickets that mustered that ignominious 40. A target of 153 looked anything but routine after that batting shocker and at 84-6, Billings’s blushes looked likely to be spared. Cue the nous of Adam Wheater and Simon Harmer who cobbled together 57 runs in 17 overs – Essex know how to win Champo matches. The whole thing was done in fewer than 190 overs of rollercoaster action few who witnessed it will forget. Essex stay top – just.

Ball Three – Somerset’s belief keeps the dream alive

That’s because Somerset were playing a blinder of their own at Edgbaston. Will Rhodes and Robert Yates (not yet out of his teens) put on 153 for the second wicket and there were plenty of contributions down the card, Warwickshire’s innings closed well into Day Two, 419 up. Steve Davies, having kept wicket through that long vigil, then batted the rest of the day, eventually dismissed after raising his century, but the home side led by over 100 and soon had Yates going well again. No matter – skipper Tom Abell (what a resourceful cricketer he is) picked up four wickets and it wasn’t long before he had the pads on, opening in pursuit of 258. The visitors were still over 100 short when Pakistan Test star, Babar Azam was dismissed, but Tom Banton, George Bartlett and Dom Bess (20, 21 and 22 years of age) got them home. A first pennant to fly over Taunton is still on.

Ball Four – Scarborough’s fair enough for Yorkshire

Much as those of us who throw our lot in with the Red Rose would like to, we can’t quite write off the White Rose’s challenge for title the after a splendid win at North Marine Road. The mood was hardly festive early on at Scarborough, as the local heroes slumped to 38-5, but Jonny Tattersall has a bit to prove and Tim Bresnan has been shooing away seagulls for half a lifetime, and the pair did enough to keep Yorkshire in the game. That’s often been enough this season against Nottinghamshire, and so it proved, with only Ben Duckett and Liam Patterson-White passing 50 for the visitors in either innings. Yorkshire are still a long way off the leaders, but Keshav Maharaj (eight wickets in this match) will be available for the big match at Taunton next month, so anything could happen, including a repeat of the Tykes’ innings victory in July.

Ball Five – Pope rewards the faithful at The Oval

“But there’s nobody really pressing for a place…” Well, if the first (and second and third) place you look for Test batsmen is amongst a settled white ball squad, it’s no bleedin’ wonder! As Marnus Labuschagne has amply demonstrated, form in county cricket can translate into the Test arena, but only if it’s given a chance. Ollie Pope looked as green as cheddar left in the sun since the last round of Champo games on his Test debut last season, but he knows how to construct big innings and, in only his second red ball match back after injury, made 221 not out, as Surrey and Hampshire eventually had to give best to an old school August shirtfront at The Oval. Pope’s reward was the nod for the role of stand-by for Jason Roy at Old Trafford, a set of affairs bizarrely more likely to be reversed when county rather than country calls.

Ball Six – Vilas victorious

While Lancashire’s attack has gained most of the plaudits on their rise to the top of Division Two (48 points clear of fourth placed Glamorgan, crushed at Colwyn Bay, promotion all but secured) but the batting has been solid too. It’s been led by wicketkeeper-batsman-captain-superman, Dane Vilas, whose 266 took his Champo average to 107 and his aggregate to 35 shy of 1000, with just Australia’s Number Four ahead of him in either division. Vilas is 34 now and fits the template of a Kolpak mercenary perfectly – not good enough for international cricket, but able to pad out the pension with a contract that keeps a young local player out. Ha -anything but. Vilas has taken on the captaincy with his heart and soul, a leader demanding the most from himself and from his team. The results prove that Lancashire’s management – not a body universally acclaimed for its foresight – got this one dead right.

 

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 19, 2019

Second Ashes Test Day Five – The Final Over of the Day

Ball One – Let’s get it on

Underway for Day Five of a compelling, if truncated, Test match after a 70 minutes delay that felt 30 minutes longer than strictly necessary. From what I could see, the umpires were making time for the players to go through their warm-up routines. They appear to comprise largely bowling and fielding drills, which I am content to concede are important in these days in which stretching is next to Godliness. But if a side have batted all day and declared with half an hour to go, the bowlers and fielders just come out and get on with it. I’d like to see that same urgency at 11.30am as one sees at 5.30pm.

Ball Two – Somnolent cricket and Somme inspired metaphors

Far too many war metaphors are used about sport, but they seemed apposite on Day Four, as Jofra Archer bombed Steven Smith as Joe Root reached for the nuclear option etc etc etc, yadda yadda yadda. Day Five’s morning session also invited a metaphor from the the war lexicon. Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler, playing against type, enjoyed a session deep behind the lines, the big guns audible only on the horizon, as they performed the equivalent of completing requisition forms and auditing supplies. A little low heart rate cricket was what the match needed, what anyone in the sellout crowd still stunned after yesterday needed and what Jos Buttler’s career needed. Some might say England’s two best biffers should have biffed a bit more, bringing froward a declaration, but pushing back the start of any Australian chase seemed a wise decision from Root’s two colonels, their general hors de combat in the pavilion, after a sniper took him out first ball on Saturday.

Ball Three – Stokes stoked

In the traditional sense, Ben Stokes is an all-rounder. He bowls fast, he bats in the top six and he catches pigeons in the cordon. But he’s a particular kind of all-rounder – the Impact All-Rounder. Whether it’s making Stuart Broad do that face with an impossible catch, snaring a set Virat Kohli to turn a Test or getting the foot on to the throat and then pressing very hard indeed, he makes things happen. It’s why he’s worth more than his somewhat modest figures suggest (batting average less than 35, bowling average above 32). Having painstakingly batted through the “calm before the storm” morning with a careful Jos Buttler, when his partner was suckered into the leg trap, Stokes hit the ball into areas of the field untenanted by Australians. His 115* came off 165 balls, but the split was 54 (118) before Buttler was dismissed and 61 (47) after.

Ball Four – Root’s Goldilocks declaration

What makes a good declaration is usually bleedin’ obvious in hindsight, but rather trickier to discern in the moment. 267 in something between 47 and 53 overs (the fielding captain can slow things down if the batting side are prospering) with no restrictions on boundary fielders, is a more distant prospect than it looks in an age of commonplace 350+ ODI innings. The best indicator of the merits of a declaration before time piles up the evidence on one side or the other, is probably the volume of informed judges who think it too early or too late. I venture that Root has about a third saying he should have pulled out earlier, a third saying he should have got a few more and another third opining that he got it just right. Not bad so far.

Jofra Archer – sort of

Ball Five – Trigger warning: Archer on

Disbelief all round the ground as Steven Smith’s concussion replacement, Manus Labuschagne, is hit in the grill second ball by an electric Jofra Archer, two wickets already in his bag. Andrew Flintoff once said that Brett Lee was fast, but didn’t feel threatening, because you saw the ball all the way through his action. Archer hits batsmen because he’s fast, but there must be more to it than that. His run up is unusually tight to the stumps and a fast arm delivers the ball from the edge of the umpire’s hat’s rim, very straight, the delivery coming and coming and coming at you. Perhaps more than anything else – and this is remarkable for a man on debut – he expects to hit the batsman and they expect to be hit by him. And when thoughts like that intrude, it’s hard to wish them away.

Ball Six – Draw brings Australia closer to retaining The Ashes… believe it or not

In truth, England were never really close to the win and Australia never in danger of surrendering their opportunity to go to Headingley requiring England to win at least two out of three to wrest away The Ashes. But it doesn’t feel like that. Jofra Archer first scrambled Steven Smith’s technique and then scrambled his senses, Ben Stokes flayed the highly rated attack to all parts of St John’s Wood and Nathan Lyon and Josh Hazlewood were toothless throughout England’s second dig. Edgbaston had been a chastening experience for England fans, the Baggy Greens evoking memories of 1989 with Steven Smith as Stephen Waugh and the fear of a McGrathish 5-0 hanging in the air. BIzzarely, the pendulum has swung so far that expectations of Archer’s potency will require media management and Ben Stokes masks will be the most popular item in Leeds markets. What a difference there is between 83 mph and 93mph.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 18, 2019

Second Ashes Test Day Four – The Final Over of the Day

Patrick Cummins and Jofra Archer enjoy a quiet moment

Ball One – Hopping mad

Steven Smith went through his full repertoire of tics as he sought to muster the concentration and discipline required to re-establish his innings after the two rainy sessions yesterday. It really is quite extraordinary how his St Vitus Dance of movements resolve themselves into perfect balance and position at the moment bat intercepts ball. There are few comparators in cricket, and, more generally, few in all sport – I’m drawn to mathematics, specifically graphing The Mandelbrot Set, as the only illustration that works.

Ball Two – The Fast Show

Motorcycling is a pretty visceral experience – wind, rain, bumps in the road – you’re never in any doubt that the world hurtling towards you can be an unfriendly place. When that happens at 70mph, it’s one thing, but it’s quite another if you roll back the throttle for a swift overtaking – 85mph feels a whole lot more than 70mph! But it doesn’t feel much different to 90mph, from the saddle of bloody big Honda anyway. That is clearly not the case standing 20 yards away from the bowler, bat in hand. Jofra Archer’s ability to get up into the 90s, especially with the short ball, means that he hits batsmen more often than most, his roughing up of Matthew Wade worthy of an assist to Stuart Broad for the wicket.

Ball Three – Never mind the speedgun, watch the batsman

You can eat all the data you like, but when you see a true fast bowler, you know it. The second coming of Mitchell Johnson decided the 2013 / 14 Ashes within minutes and Jofra Archer had a similar impact on the crowd, if not the opposition, when he hit Steven Smith on the arm in the middle of what proved an epic afternoon session. Soft ball, long spell, great batsman – little matters when a man can crank it up well into the 90s. That’s given the Australians, even the great Steven Smith, something to think about today and for the rest of the series. But, and this is almost as important, England fans will know that they are in every Test if Jofra Archer is on the field, no matter what the scoreboard says.

Ball Four – Guha and Johnson putting together a fine partnership

Isa Guha, once it was clear that Steven Smith was okay having been hit on the neck by a very quick Jofra Archer bouncer, turned to Mitchell Johnson and asked, “What does it feel like when you hit a batsman like that?” It was the right question to the right man at the right time and, to his credit since he was at least as rattled as anyone looking on, Johnson answered unhesitatingly and honestly and with the decency that has marked his media work. While his answer wasn’t a surprise – you feel sick, but it’s part of the game (or words to that effect) – expressing it in that order possibly was. It was an excellent five minutes of broadcasting from two of the more interesting voices in the comm box.

Ball Five – Sanctimonious? On Twitter? Who knew…

I don’t know what Jofra Archer and Jos Buttler were doing when they were shown on TV laughing when Steven Smith was injured. I do know that I was commentating at Guerilla Cricket when Stuart Broad was pinged through the grille by Varon Aaron, the blood gushing. I witnessed it on television, but I was shaken up enough to know that I was babbling into the mic, not really knowing what I was saying,  slightly out of control. It would be wrong to say that I was suffering from shock, but my reaction was, at the very least, somewhat involuntary. When Smith went down, there was a real sense of dread around Lord’s for what felt like a long time – it must have felt longer on the field. One thing was on most minds. Those rushing to heap opprobrium on the England pair should reflect for a moment on how they might feel, up close and personal, in the midst of an incident like that and whether they, like me, might not have been quite so cool as they are when mashing the keyboard.

Ball Six – Bats out of Hell

Last month, after the Ireland Test, Joe Root publicly criticised the pitch served up by Lord’s new groundsman, Karl McDermott, describing it as “substandard” and “…not even close to being a fair contest between bat and ball.” If he’s tempted to make similar remarks after an extraordinary day of fast bowling, he’d be well advised to keep stumm. The bowling, especially from an electric Jofra Archer and a fired up Patrick Cummins, was as fast and furious as can have been seen on this grand old ground. But that’s only half the story. Too many batsmen, top order men not bunnies, fail to keep their eye on the ball, move too late to avoid an impact and rely too heavily on the protective equipment they have worn since childhood. The contribution of Mr McDermott to such technical problems is negligible.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 17, 2019

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 18 August 2019

A redhead Davies who was also good with the white ball 

Ball One – Davies cues up easy chase for Lancashire

Lancashire continued their fine season with a crushing win over Northamptonshire to all but secure qualification from the North Group with three matches to spare. Alex Davies steered the cruise to their target of 158 with an unbeaten 75, the Academy product playing as a specialist batsman these days, Dane Vilas getting captain’s dibs on the gloves. Since he was one of this column’s Five County Cricketers of the Year in 2017, Davies’ form has dipped a little in red ball cricket, but he enjoyed a good Blast last season and he’s back for more this time round. He’ll be 25 on Friday, still plenty young enough to catch the selectors’ eye, especially with England looking like they might need a little freshening up for the winter tours.

Ball Two – If anyone’s game, it’s anyone’s game in the North

Below Lancashire, there’s a real dogfight brewing for the three quarter-final places not spoken for, with even Yorkshire at the foot of the table not out of it with four matches to play. It might come down to a bit of luck with the weather or a tight run out decision going one way or the other, but there are plenty of sports who would like to have this level of jeopardy so deep into a season. With the big runs being scored in the South Group, Durham will be hoping that their opening pair, Australian D’Arcy Short and local lad Scott Steel, continue the form that puts them first and fourth amongst the North Group’s top run scorers.

Ball Three – M Klinger M*A*S*Hes Hampshire

In one of only two matches to beat the weather in the South, Gloucestershire eased to a win over Hampshire at Bristol. Veteran skipper, Michael Klinger, short of runs this season, anchored the chase with 40, allowing wicketkeeper-batsman James Bracey to tee off, his half-century ensuring that the 140 required was banked with a couple of overs to spare. In these baffling and troubled times, the thought that Michael Klinger is probably making 40 or so at a run-a-ball in Bristol is a comfort.

Ball Four – Middlesex bowlers making mayhem

Only Glamorgan appears gone in the South Group heading into the Champo break, with the other eight counties looking to win the key moments and put a run together. If bowlers win matches – less obviously so with white ball in hand than with red, but probably largely true – Middlesex look best placed to make the run for the line. In Steven Finn, Toby Roland-Jones, Nathan Sowter and Tom Helm, they have a settled attack which provides half the top eight wicket-takers in the Blast. With Somerset’s gun batsmen leading their comeback and Sussex and Kent with the points on the board, don’t be surprised to see that quartet gain the opportunity to go to Finals Day.

Ball Five – Match of the Week (North Group)

While batting pyrotechnics captures the headlines and it’s six after six after six in the advertising montages, everyone who loves cricket knows that there’s no thriller like a low scoring thriller – no matter the format. Worcestershire barely clawed their way to 117-7 at Chester-le-Street, no stand realising 30 runs, so when D’Arcy Short and Scott Steel were still together in the 12th over, 79 knocked off, few would have given the visitors a price. But one wicket brings two and the boundaries dried up – none in the last eight overs – and suddenly Alex Lees and Stuart Poynter needed nine off the last over. Pat Brown allowed just three singles and a couple of leg byes and Worcestershire set off down the motorway for home with a couple of points smuggled from under Durham’s noses.

Ball Six – Match of the Week (South Group)

In the end, it wasn’t much of a match, Surrey seeing off a disappointing Sussex batting effort, but the sense of occasion at The Oval was palpable. Floodlights, a full house – loud but not too rowdy – and a home side playing well in a local derby providing all the atmosphere you need. It was quite a contrast from earlier in the day at Lord’s (read more my Thursday on either side of the Thames here) and showed that the appetite for the oldest and (for now) the youngest formats of the game remains strong, in the metropolis at least. I’m not sure that the MCC members would have been as enthusiastic as the Kennington faithful when Kiss Cam beamed out of the big screens, but each to their own. And why not?

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 17, 2019

Second Ashes Test Day Three – The Final Over of the Day

Jofra Archer and Stuart Broad

Ball One – Archer has the fans aquiver

Fast bowling is hard work. It breaks bodies with shin splints and hairline fractures early on, then bad backs and side strains later. Propelling a ball at 90mph is not something that sits well with human physiology and all those niggles are the body’s way of making its point. But sometimes, and it’s not often, fast bowling looks like the easiest thing in the world. Yesterday, Patrick Cummins threw himself into every delivery, fingers scraping the ground in the follow through, every muscle (and there are a few) employed to its fullest. Jofra Archer sends the ball down at roughly the same speed, but – seemingly – with barely any of the effort. From the same Pavilion End, he cruises in as if on rails and rocks back and then forward as a very quick arm releases the ball. Maybe it’s because everything is pointing in the same direction, maybe it’s because he’s close in to the stumps, maybe it’s just a gift from the gods, but he really does make his most demanding of trades look far too easy.

Ball Two – Dead Right Sir!

DRS will excite few comments but it had an excellent session overturning a poor decision from each umpire. First Aleem Dar can only have thought that one of the two noises he heard was bat, but both were pad, and the ball was hitting Travis Head’s middle stump halfway up. Shortly after, Chris Gaffney answered Ben Stokes’ appeal in the positive, but it didn’t shape right for the right arm over bowler to the left hand bat and, sure enough, it may have been hitting, but it pitched outside leg. It’s not been a good series so far for the umpires, but DRS is playing a blinder.

Ball Three – Taking a rain check

The Lord’s crowd can be hard to love – there’s all those champagne corks on the outfield for a start – but, with a weather forecast little short of apocalyptical, they turned up in huge numbers to see the morning session. They were rewarded with a fine display from England’s bowlers, who asked a lot of questions of the Australian batsmen, enough to flummox Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja and Travis Head. And, if no further play is possible, they’ll also be rewarded with a 50% refund on their ticket price. It seems hard to believe that until relatively recently, you just had to shrug your shoulders and write the day off without recourse to a rebate. Of course, the tickets cost a lot less back then.

Rain stopped play

Ball Four –

Ball Five –

Ball Six –

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 16, 2019

Surrey vs Sussex T20 – The Final Over of the Day

Ball One – In with the In Crowd

A quick bike across the river and I’m at The Oval amongst what looks every bit as big a crowd as that I left behind at Lord’s – with, it has to be said, almost everyone avidly watching the cricket, picnic spots tricky to locate round here. The Oval and Lord’s always sound different – Lord’s has a hum, The Oval more a rumble – and there are more supporters barracking for the visitors (it’s not far up the M23 after all), which provides a different dynamic. The crowd is younger, more female and more diverse too – though there’s still plenty to be done to get the full rainbow of South London’s cavalcade of humanity through the gates.

Ball Two – Nostalgia – but not as I know it

“Shall we go and see the last 20 overs?” My dad would say that back in the 70s and I’d jump in the car and we’d go to Bootle or Northern (sometimes Sefton Park), arriving at six o’clock or so, when the umpires would call the last hour in which 20 sets were to be bowled. The Liverpool Competition played time matches, so the batting side could shut up shop and play for the draw, but they seldom did. Safe to say, it was rather less frenetic, less loud and less colourful than the scene under lights in Kennington.

Ball Three – Get Ctrl C Ctrl V ready for Foakes and Curran

A skier and Phil Salt goes, caught Foakes, bowled Curran. Okay, it was Tom Curran rather than Sam (who is playing and made another handy score at Number 3) but it’s still an entry that could have appeared today on the scorecard five miles north of here. I wouldn’t be surprised if it does when England finish their Ashes campaign at this ground next month.

Ball Four – Old stagers refuse to be upstaged

Surrey’s spin twins, Imran Tahir and Gareth Batty, have a combined age of 82, both having passed 40. Looking around, that makes them older than a good 75% of the crowd, I’d venture. Cricket, even in this madcap mayhem format – I’ve just all but lost both eyebrows when the flamethrowers saluted Jordan Clark’s caught and bowled – still has room for a couple of very old pros like them.

Sussex arrive for the rumble

Ball Five – When You’re A Shark…

I’ve always been a little disappointed that no T20 team chose “Jets” for a name. Sussex are, of course, “Sharks”, a name that has a bit of geographical heft and both alliteration and assonance when combined with Sussex. I can’t help thinking that Stephen Sondheim would rather appreciate that, having never knowingly turned down the opportunity for an internal rhyme himself. A little West Side Story would improve the T20 playlist no end too.

Ball Six – Sharks sink as the run rate climbs

At the halfway point, the Sharks had eight wickets in hand with the run rate in single figures. They had to be favourites – if you looked at the numbers. But the Surrey bowlers, despite an indifferent campaign, could call upon plenty of bells and whistles, and the visiting batsmen could barely time one off the square. Up climbed the asking rate, up went the top edges and on into hands, and up went the wickets column. “One big over” the batsmen would be telling themselves, but it never came and the points stayed in the Metropolis.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 16, 2019

Second Ashes Test Day Two – The Final Over of the Day

Ball One – Roy – a prince of the white ball but a pauper of the red

Too many of England’s batsmen make it too easy for the bowlers to take their wickets. The Australian attack deliver their fair share of good balls but the ineluctable fact is that they don’t really need to.

This is Jason Roy’s third ball (after a waft and being beaten on the outside edge for the previous two). The ball pitches on a sixth stump line and went down the hill a little – for 135 years, England openers would have left it alone. But, and one can hardly blame him since he has been picked to play his natural game in which leaves are about as common as they are in an orchard at Christmas, Roy fences at it. But look at the still above. Not one component of the anatomy of batting – feet, hands, head and ball – are aligned. This is a technical issue and it’s not going to be solved in the cauldron of Ashes cricket.

Ball Two – Rooted to the spot

Joe Root has a different technical issue, the longstanding problem of playing round the front pad as the feet go nowhere and the head topples over to the offside.

He is hardly the first batsman to have to deal with askew balance – indeed, it sometimes seems that only the best develop this tic – but he might be the first who will have just a Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to work on it before the next Test. Oh, and rest up, undertake media duties, discuss selection, work on tactics, motivate the team…

Ball Three – Hazlewood cracks the whip

One of the reasons Glenn McGrath bowled so well at Lord’s was his impeccable control of length. The slope (and, until you come here, it’s hard to appreciate just how steep it is) is always going to give you a bit of lateral movement, so it’s important to get the batsmen forward to balls that aren’t quite there. Josh Hazlewood gave a decent impression of the great McGrath, albeit from the other end, squatting full or slightly full of a length with the occasional bouncer to keep the batsmen honest. Such discipline will induce mistakes (and you’re never far away from one of those when England are batting), but it’ll also get set batsmen out. Joe Denly looked loose at times. though he could little with one that he had to play but that moved that McGrathian half bat’s width down the hill. Very smart stuff from the big New South Wales quick.

Ball Four – Tonight they’re gonna party like it’s 1989.

It’s a paradox (at least I think it is) that England’s World Cup heroes have played both too little and too much cricket. Between 30 May and 14 July, they played a maximum of 11 days cricket, which shouldn’t tax a professional sportsman… except mentally, the burden of being hosts and favourites not to be underestimated. That’s left Jason Roy, Joe Root, Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali both undercooked and exhausted. They don’t look like they have a century amongst them – or even between them – and there’s no time to work through the horrendous technical issues they’re exhibiting, most obviously in the complete lack of balance, forward or back and across the crease. 1989 might look like a picnic before this series is out.

Ball Five – Batsman of the Day

At Edgbaston, Jonny Bairstow looked as jaded as any of England’s World Cup winners, two tired shots seeing him off for single figure scores. He wasn’t quite back to his best in his innings of 52, out slogging, nine down, but he waited for the ball, lined it up and controlled his bottom hand much more rigorously. It seems that Jonny is affected more than most by criticism, not really doing phlegmatic, preferring feisty – the redhead stereotype ringing true. If the questioning of his place in what is still, even in a World Cup year, the marquee series (and maybe his last chance to play in one at home) prompted such improvement, then well played YJB. And if it didn’t? Then, well played YJB anyway.

Ball Six – Bowler of the Day

One can criticise Patrick Cummins for bowling too many bouncers at the tail and one can criticise Tim Paine for cynically delivering 13 overs per hour to protect his four strong attack (especially after putting England in) but it’s hard to complain about Cummins’ heart. He was at full throttle all day, ultra-aggressive but never out of control and always bowling to a plan. It took him a while to get his just deserts, but he bounced out Rory Burns (53), Chris Woakes (32) and Jofra Archer (12) with some old school chin music and gave a good indication of how Australia will approach the rest of the series. With Headingley only seven days away, I suspect he might need rotating out to ease his back, which might give England’s batsmen a better night’s sleep. Just Mitchell Starc to execute the same tactic…

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 12, 2019

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 12 August 2019

Ball One – Abell rings the changes in Somerset’s form

With four teams from each group to qualify for the quarter-finals, now is a good time to go on a little trot and Somerset, hitherto strangely out of sorts in this competition, did exactly that with three wins from three matches. The tactic was simple – make 200+ to overwhelm opponents, who then never get into the chase. While Tom Banton (within a late season Championship century of breaking Jason Roy’s record of the youngest England qualified player to make a ton in all three formats h/t Marcus Hook), is gathering plenty of praise – including in this column last week – he’s not alone in monstering attacks. Pakistani import Babar Azam averages 62 striking at 153, and the increasingly impressive Tom Abell’s figures are almost as eye-catching at 43 and 172. With Lewis Gregory not in the side last week, Abell’s captaincy magic was working yet again too – could Ed Smith be watching and wondering?

Ball Two – Middlesex shorn of seaxes for Sussex

While all eyes last week were on Sussex’s Second XI, the first team enjoyed a couple of impressive wins to go top of the South Group and retain their status as the only unbeaten club in the country. Luck will play its part of course, and after whipping boys Glamorgan were despatched, Middlesex hoved into sight without their two most potent batting weapons, Eoin Morgan and AB De Villiers. With all due respect to Dan Lincoln and George Scott, they don’t carry quite the same threat, and so it proved, Sussex running out easy winners.

Ball Three – Sam swipes for sorry Surrey

Sam Curran walking out to bat in Surrey’s two defeats this week was a curious sight partly because I’d have thought that he’d have been better employed guesting for Worcestershire in their three day match against The Australians, but also that he was in at number three. Whether Curran’s impeccably orthodox technique should be contaminated by the need to stand aside and slash away (not a good look in a Test match, as more than one England batsman can attest) is one thing, but the light it throws on Surrey’s batting resources is another. With Aaron Finch a little jaded after the World Cup, Ollie Pope struggling to find consistency after his injury layoff and Mark Stoneman being, well, Mark Stoneman, a phalanx of bits and pieces men aren’t delivering the quality one might expect from the a county whose youth policy was lauded but 12 months ago.

Ball Four – Rain drains momentum up North

In the North Group, all nine teams are still in with a shout of reaching the knockout stage, but Yorkshire’s hopes (and Lancashire’s finances) suffered a blow in the Roses washout. The weather is playing a big part in the North Group, which feels strange as one might expect rain to more of a West / East than North / South thing, but the figures do look skewed. The South Group has suffered four no results whereas the North has had nine. Bad luck? Ground preparation and maintenance? Attitude of captains and umpires? Even God tilting things against Northerners – again? Perhaps, with weather radars so sophisticated these days, a match like Leicestershire’s against Northamptonshire’s in which the 22.4 overs possible split 20 : 2.4 (and hence no result) could be agreed at the start as a 10 overs a side affair? If the sun is still shining when the players walk off, that would be a shame, but at least both sides would have the chance of a positive outcome.

“We’re looking for a Mr Ackermann?”

Ball Five – Ackermann the man!

Leicestershire 189-6; Birmingham Bears 134. A seemingly unremarkable scorecard (if one refrains from commenting on “Birmingham Bears” sounding more like a Grindr search term than a cricket team). But buried in those figures, like a Fibonacci sequence awaiting its unmasking, are the best bowling figures in T20 history. And they belong not to Dale Steyn, not to Mitchell Starc, not even to Chris Gayle (who seems to have most of the other T20 records), but to Colin Ackermann, whose occasional off-spin slow bowling picked up 7-18! That said, the record’s true importance might be measured by the bowler from whom he took it. Fine pro that he was before injury robbed him of his later career, but Arul Suppiah was not a player to set the pulses running. “Look in the book” is the answer to jibes like that one – as it so often is.

Ball Six – Hundreds of thousands don’t need The Hundred

How did over 27,000 people (including some women and children I expect, abacuses in hand) find their way to Lord’s for the big London derby this week? Okay, there’s been some advertising on billboards and, curiously, in cinemas, but I’ve certainly heard more on the radio about the Kia Super League than about the tournament that provides the biggest show in town, pretty much wherever and whenever it’s played. Someone should really collate the T20 attendances this year ready to line them up against the PR machine that will (because it’s what PR machines do), hail The Hundred’s success in 2020.

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